By Rosemary Bointon
Exam results season in the UK is always tough. My granddaughter got her results and did brilliantly. (The little work of ageing doubt creeps in – I bet I couldn’t do all that stuff now.)
But I’m dancing around with happiness that her hard work has paid off. I am SO proud of her!!
When I think back I remember how AWFUL it was to revise.
Then the exams themselves: the tension, the heat, the sweat and cramp in your hand, the relief of finishing.
Followed by the agonising wait for results. The fear and depression imagining the worst and the relief when it turns out ok.
Do you remember those EXCRUCIATING experiences?
NO MORE STUDYING, NO MORE EXAMS EVER, I thought to myself back then, filled with the joys of starting a career.
Ageing and learning
As you get older, you realise that studying isn’t over. You can’t stop learning.
Your world changes and you have to learn how to change with it.
Your family changes: you may need to learn how to be a good parent. Your work and home environment is changed by technology: you have to learn a new computer system that replaces the one you’ve used for years.
Or how some ridiculously complicated electrical appliance works – have you seen some of those coffee machines? They look like rocket science!
Ok, so when you’re REALLY old, perhaps you don’t need to learn anything new – after all you might have retired, so that means you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to.
But then the fear of ageing and decline sets in.
We used to laugh about those stories people told about their elderly relatives: such as Aunt Beatrice forgetting the name of the cat or grandpa putting the house keys in the fridge or grandma going to the shops in her nightie.
But it was always a hollow laugh: a laugh that seeks to cover up our own secret fears of ageing and losing our identity.
We know better now. We know that as we age, we may be the next ones to suffer from cognitive decline, dementia or Alzheimers.
We know that ageing can make you suffer memory loss, can make you feel that your brain has been replaced with cotton wool.
It’s scary and now it’s us feeling the fear. It’s us imagining the icy tentacles of decline reaching into our very being, the gradual slide into mental confusion, loss of identity and onto an early grave.
What can we do NOW to help our brains remain active and lively?
How can we stop our brains from sliding us into decline and an early grave?
Well, there are LOADS of things we can do now to slow and maybe even stop our mental decline.
Some are old chestnuts (you know: exercise, diet).
Something you haven’t heard of?
There’s one thing you might not have thought about.
And those exam celebrations put us right in the mood to start NOW.
And it’s related to exams.
SCREAM, SHOCK, HORROR – YOU SAID YOU NEVER WANTED TO DO ANY MORE EXAMS!!!
Just kidding! You don’t actually have to go back to school.
You just have to go back to learning.
Why go back to learning?
Because the neuroscientists say that learning helps you to build a “COGNITIVE RESERVE”. So, if you start losing some of the connections, you still have enough reserves in your brain to draw on to help prevent mental decline.
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The more we use our brains, the more reserves we have.
It’s a life-long task to make your life last longer.
Learning is for FUN.
But we’re not going to go through the agonies of school again. No more exams!
Learning through life is all about using our brains for things that are FUN! That we can commit to with PASSION! That make our lives worth living.
Put your heart and soul into learning something that you love, something exciting and you won’t want to stop learning.
Maybe it’s kung fu. Maybe it’s quilting. Maybe it’s finding out about light houses.
What have you always wanted to do? Travel? Then learn a language, learn about the architecture, learn about the geography of where you’re going.
Learn the language. Then surprise the waiter when you next go on holiday abroad.
How about going on a cookery course in Italy or France? One study says that the most studied and validated factors for preventing cognitive decline are education, exercise and Mediterranean-style diets.
Learn Italian or French whilst you’re learning to cook.
Play a musical instrument? Buy an instrument second hand. Have a go. See if there are local classes. My friend bought a second-hand keyboard and is starting lessons. Another sings in a choir
Or maybe it’s walking or hiking.
Or climbing mountains
Even if you’re not that mobile, you can climb your own special mountain. What talents do you have that you can use even if you can’t move that well? Jon Morrow, who can only move his face, set up a multimillion dollar business.
Did you want to go to Harvard University? Try taking a MOOC (a massive online open course). They’re from top universities and they’re FREE. There’s the widest range of subjects you could imagine. I’ve taken one on ageing and the environment from Delft University and a diploma on Adventure run by www.alison.com.
(Psst! Most of them don’t have exams.)
Or try simple things such as using your left hand (or right hand if you’re left handed). Try it – it’s harder than you think to peel potatoes with your other hand. It feels really funny. And it gives your brain a boost, since it has to think harder.
Choose to read more challenging and stimulating books. You’ll learn loads whilst you help keep your brain in better working order.
The more challenging the more effect on your brain
Your learning does need to be a bit difficult though. You need to get OUT of your COMFORT ZONE and stretch your brain a bit. Reading the ads on the cornflake packet DOESN’T count.
Doing puzzles like Sudoku and other games can help, but you can’t just do the easy ones. Go for it and try to see what’s the hardest one you can do.
Get angry that you can’t do it and then try again.
Do a course on improving your memory and then use it as you learn something new – about how your brain works for example. (I recommend course from the Magnetic Memory guru, Anthony Metivier.)
The more you challenge yourself to learn something difficult, the more connections you’ll build up and so the less likely you are to suffer from decline.
Two for the price of one
Combine multiple challenges. It’ll double up your brain processing powers.
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I just read today that if you learn stuff in the rests between sets of exercise, you remember it much better. That should make revising easier!
Make it an adventure. I went on a sailing holiday to learn French.
Adventure travel for seniors is a (baby) booming business!
Someone I know who is learning a language is also learning about fish by reading a book in Croatian – two challenges for the price of one!
(And for those who appreciate British humour, that has NOTHING to do with the price of fish.)
Do sums in your head whilst doing the washing up and maybe you could stand on one leg at the same time.
It’s Never Too Late to do something New
The younger you start, the more chance you have of avoiding cognitive decline as you age.
But it’s never too late to do something new. Last month, my mother-in-law asked for a tablet for her 100th birthday because she was sick of people thinking she was an idiot because she didn’t know how to use one.
So, go start learning something you’re passionate about NOW.
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OK – it may not work for everyone. But it makes for a more fulfilling life, whatever age you are.
Choose something to learn today
You have less to fear from ageing and decline.
Unlike my granddaughter, you don’t have to take any more EXAMS.
Like my granddaughter, you’ll reap the rewards of your work, not only right now but you’ll be doing your best to keep your brain out of an early grave.
Do tell me what you’re doing to keep your brain active and lively in the comments.
And please share.
Rosemary Bointon has a background in corporate law, which enabled her to live and work in 12 different countries. Having sailed the Atlantic in her own boat, her passion is thinking up new adventures and challenges for older people to do NOW, to help them have loads of fun in longer, more fulfilled and active lives. While she’s working on a new website about adventures for older people, you can find her here and on Twitter.
Last Updated on February 1, 2023 by Editorial Staff